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How to keep a Turtle Warm without a Heat Lamp?

A heat lamp can help provide your turtle with the necessary heat it needs to bask and dry off. But sometimes, it’s not always a viable option.

Whether it’s too expensive, the power has gone out, or for some reason, you aren’t able to have access to one, there’s no need to worry! There are other alternatives to heat lamps that you can use to supply your turtle with the heat it needs!

If you don’t have a heat lamp, there are various other options you can use, such as direct sunlight, incandescent light bulbs, or water heaters. You can even pour warm water into your tank to help maintain the overall temperature of your turtle’s environment.

There are many things to consider when it comes to making sure that your turtle is happy and healthy. Keep reading to find out how you can properly keep your precious little reptile warm without a heat lamp!

Can Direct Sunlight Help My Turtle Stay Warm?

Vitamin D and Boosting Metabolism

In the wild, turtles use the sun to generate Vitamin D, a mineral essential for their overall well-being and health. The heat from the sun is absorbed by turtles, helping them stay warm while simultaneously boosting their metabolisms.

For How Long?

With other artificial light sources available, you should give your turtle the chance to bask in direct sunlight for at least 20 to 30 minutes a couple of times a week. Without other artificial lighting sources, you need to give your turtle 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight a day to meet their health requirements.  

The first time you allow your turtle to bask in direct sunlight, it should only be for about 10 minutes. From there, you can gradually increase the amount of basking time they receive.

Potential Dangers

Remember to never leave your turtle unattended outside. You’d be surprised at how many neighborhood predators lurk nearby, waiting for an easy meal. Animals such as raccoons, opossums, skunks, and birds will swoop in and steal your turtle if they get an opportunity. Leaving your turtle outside in the sun for too long can also be harmful to its health.

turtle basking in sun
turtle basking in sun

Can I Use Incandescent Light Bulbs to Help Keep My Turtle Warm? 

Incandescent light bulbs are a great and reliable way to help keep your turtle warm, but you must make sure the light bulb gives off the sufficient UVA and UVB rays needed for your turtle to stay healthy. Some stores have light bulbs that are “full-spectrum”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they provide the right amount of UVA And UVB light. 

Turtles need three types of light to help sustain their bodies:

1.) UVA Light

2.) UVB Light

3.) Natural Sunlight

Some Turtles Need More Light Than Others

Before purchasing a light bulb, do some research on what your specific turtle requires. Some need more UVB rays than others, so it is important that your turtle is getting just the right light and heat that it needs. 

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Safe and Easy to Use

This is a very popular method because incandescent light bulbs are pretty easy and safe to use. These light bulbs are also affordable and reliable when it comes to providing warmth for your turtle.

Make Sure You Have the Right Bulb

All light bulbs radiate heat, but incandescent light bulbs provide an ideal amount of heat for basking. You must measure the wattage of your bulb because some radiate more heat than others. You want to make sure that your turtle is getting the right amount of heat so it can function properly and healthily. 

Where Do I Put My Incandescent Light Bulb?

You should place your incandescent light bulb at least 12 inches above a nice flat rock in your turtle tank. This should make for a great place for your turtle to get warmed up! Make sure that this light bulb is out of reach from your turtles to ensure that they do not burn themselves.

Will Water Heaters Provide the Warmth My Turtle Needs?

This option is a bit more expensive than the others but a great way to ensure that your turtle is getting the warmth it needs as you control the amount they are receiving.

Most aquarium heaters are designed for fish tanks, so you must be careful when choosing the right heater for your turtle tank.

External water heaters

External water heaters are great for the more experienced turtle owner. It requires a bit more maintenance than a submersible water heater does. They are usually designed to connect to canister filters that are set up outside of your tank.

External heaters warm up the tank by sucking in its water through the tubes and into a heating system. From there, the water is transported back into the tank. 

If you have a different kind of filter, you can use a water pump as an alternative to supply water flow through the external heater. 

To ensure that there are no leaks in your external heater, you should make sure to get the right-sized tubes and attachments to ensure that it will be installed appropriately. 

It’s essential to always have a consistent, healthy water flow which helps prevent burnouts and unnecessary stress on your heater. Water heaters and pumps are lubricated and cooled down by the water flowing through them, so they should not be operated without water. 

water heater for turle tank
water heater for turle tank

Submersible water heaters

Submersible water heaters are a very well-known method amongst turtle owners. They are inserted into the tank below the water, where it creates heat by pulling water into the pump and pushing it through a diffuser. This creates pressure energy which can be converted into heat! 

Combine this heater with a powerful filtration system, and the water in your tank will be evenly heated. Creating an ideal and safe environment for your turtle while also efficiently using energy! Submersible water pumps don’t have to use much power to move water into the pump. This occurs naturally due to water pressure. 

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Some disadvantages of a submersible water heater are that the seals on the pumps can become corroded over time. This can lead to water leaking into your heater’s motor, which will most definitely ruin it. 

To avoid this problem, you should always keep an eye on your tank and observe the pump for any faults or issues. This way, you can be prepared in case something needs to be fixed.

Beware The Glass Covering

A good submersible tank heater should have an outer protective covering or guard made of metal or thermal-resistant plastic. Stainless steel can work as well, but glass does not. A glass covering would be bad for your turtle because its hard shells could potentially cause it to break. If that happens, your turtle would most likely be electrocuted.

Heater Specifics

You need to purchase a heater with enough power to generate heat for the whole tank. If your turtle tank is in a colder room, it will need more power, but a room that is already warm will not need as strong as a heater. 

Turtle tank heater guideline based on tank size:

  • 20 gallons (75 liters) = 75 watts
  • 40 gallons (150 liters) = 150 watts, 
  • 65 gallons (250 liters) = 250 watts
  • 75 gallons (300 liters) = 300 watts

Can I Keep My Turtle Warm by Adding Hot Water to The Tank?

This last method is to help you just in case you really need to heat your turtle tank for a short amount of time and have nothing else. It is advised that you have proper heating elements installed in your turtle tank to keep them warm. 

How Much?

As you are adding in water to refill the tank after a cleaning, you can add in a couple of cups of warm water. Start with 5 cups and go from there. This should be enough to temporarily keep your turtle warm and healthy if they have somewhere to bask as well. 

Depending on the time of year and temperature of your home, you may have to add up to 10 cups to sufficiently warm your tank.

turtle in warm water
turtle in warm water

What Are the Ideal Temperature Levels?

A thermostat can be very helpful with these methods to accurately measure the living conditions of your turtle. Temperature levels in your turtle tank should be anywhere in the range of 75F (23.9C) to 80F (26.7C). For baby turtles, it is recommended that you keep your tank in the higher levels of this range.


There are many ways you can provide turtles with proper warmth without a heat lamp. A heat lamp can be ideal for some, but it’s not always an available option for others. It’s essential that you do the research on what your specific turtle needs so that it can live a long and happy life. 

All turtles are different. But no matter what kind, they all deserve the best treatment and care from their humans.